Summer Dish: Delicious, Easy Quinoa Salad

This is more methodology than recipe because I don't have very many exact measurements. But I like this dish so much and it's gone over so well at a few gatherings recently that I wanted to share. It's perfect for summer. Light enough to be a side, substantial enough to be a main. Refreshing, with a variety of textures. Chewy, crunchy, zingy, tangy, cool, salty. It's flexible. I've made it a few different ways, and it's never come out badly. It's great over greens as a meal, or alongside your favorite grilled protein and vegetables. I bet it would be delicious with mint, parsley, and/or avocado. And best of all, it comes together quickly.

Quinoa or a quinoa blend is tossed with olive oil and lemon, then mixed with cucumber, feta, pistachios, dried cranberries, and roasted chickpeas.

I've used a mix of red and white quinoa, and also this blend with amaranth, which I found at Costco. I think this blend is my favorite as a base, but I'd bet any sturdy grain will do.

 Photo from sonomavalleyfarms.com

Photo from sonomavalleyfarms.com

Preheat your oven to 425.

Cook a full serving of your grain (usually one cup dry) according to the instructions. If there is a suggestion for getting it to come out drier, do that. You want your quinoa light and fluffy, and for it to not stick together. I do mine in the rice cooker and it comes out perfectly every time. 

Once it's done cooking, immediately take it out of the pot and spread it out on a sheet pan or up around the sides of a large bowl so that it cools quickly.

While your quinoa is cooking, you can tend to the other stuff. 

Drain and rinse a can of garbanzo beans, or take this opportunity to smugly fetch the beans you cooked yourself, you big show-off. Scatter rinsed beans on a large baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. You need enough to very lightly coat your beans. If you're unsure how much that is, start with a little and add more as needed. See, this is why I can't call this a recipe. I'm guessing you need half a tablespoon or so. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of paprika. Use your hand to mix the beans together until evenly coated with oil and seasonings. Shake the pan so they spread out as evenly as possible. Ideally you want a little space in between each one so they can get a little crispy. Pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, shaking and flipping them once or twice as they cook. I think they take closer to 20 minutes to get a little browned. 

While your quinoa & beans are going, peel, seed, and dice an English cucumber, or roughly 4-5 of those small Persian cucumbers. Zest a lemon and cut it in half. Or save that to do directly over the mix later, if you want fewer dirty dishes. (Also prep any other ingredients you might want to add. Olives, mint, parsley, tomatoes, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc. For what it's worth, my general rule is to follow a recipe right once the first time, then freestyle it as desired if I make it again.)

To the cooled quinoa add a few glugs of olive oil, the zest of one lemon, the juice of half a lemon, and generous sprinklings of salt and pepper. You may need more later, but I do all this to taste, and again, I'm sorry I don't have measurements. Stir up your quinoa, give it a taste. Add more olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed. If it seems dry, sprinkle a little water on it. We're talking a tablespoon at a time. It makes a world of difference adding a little water here to drier, fluffy quinoa, rather than adding it during the cooking process. Taste again, adjust again.

Once you've got your grains heartily seasoned, stir in all of the cucumber, a handful of dried cranberries, a handful of pistachios, about a third of a regular container of crumbled feta, and half the roasted chickpeas. Mix it all up, taste it. If it needs more of any element, toss it in. When it's good, put it in a serving dish and pile on another handful each of cranberries & pistachios, another third of a container of feta, and the rest of the chickpeas. That's it. You've got yourself a delicious summer side dish. I like it best served at room temp, but it's great cold, too.

Let me know if you try it!